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August 2020, no. 423


August 2020, no. 423

O.G. and Tebita sat down by the river. Several minutes of confused communication had concluded, once again, in a revelation of O.G.’s obtuseness. O.G. had asked the name of the river, as it wasn’t yet the Nile. But Tebita kept saying iteru, which O.G. knew meant river. So O.G. pointed again to the water and said ‘But how is this river called? What is the name on it? Which river is this?’ And, despite the frustration, was impressed she could even ask the question three different ways after – was it five? – weeks in Abydos. Time, her friend, her enemy, had become difficult to reckon.

But Tebita said again and again iteru, iteru, ee-tare-you, until it looked like she might cry but instead opened her satchel to lay out their lunch. The girl had gone from being a finicky mostly-bread-eater to in the last few weeks showing O.G. how to make delicious dried fruit bars, sweet breads, and fish stews. Though this morning, instead of gobbling up the bread and lentils as she had done on previous outings, Tebita ran her fingers across the newborn heads of bright green shoots beginning to rise from the river freshened soil.

A fear of wild animals, despite or maybe because of her old and future job at the zoo, had led Diana to research crocodiles, hippos, cobras, and scorpions: the ancient Egyptian fauna she most feared.

O.G. tried another approach.

‘How many rivers for –’ and not having a word, if there even was one, for Egypt or this country, O.G. swept her arms as wide as she could, tried to include the lands all around them, and shrugged her shoulders.

‘One,’ Tebita had said, and offered O.G. a round of bread without raising her head.

‘There isn’t only one river!’ O.G. said in English. Then, in a pattern she sometimes told herself was just the rest of her brain returning from the future, O.G. became aware Tebita was right.

There was only one river. Here, the Nile was called River, because that’s what it was, the one, the only, river. O.G.’s life was now dependent upon this wild, mysterious, unpredictable water. It had flooded just before O.G.’s arrival; a good flood, everyone had said, and the relief on their faces and in their voices – even the children – had planted a seed of terror in O.G.’s heart. A bad year, the inevitable bad year: what would that look like? In what tremendous and terrible manner would this river now shape her life?

Iteru,’ O.G. mumbled into her lap.

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